|South Acton Councillors' Report|
What's been happening in the area in April
April has been another busy month with two full council meetings (one was a short special one), as well as a shake-up of portfolios and responsibilities which will all come to pass at the next council meeting, it is annual council which is the mayor making meeting as we move into the final year before the 2014 election.
It hardly seems like three years have passed but in that time Ealing - and Acton – has faced fundamental change with the £88 million central government cuts to the council’s budget as well as the ongoing economic crunch with the lack of any growth on the horizon Ealing is working hard to try and make sure we protect jobs, homes and families and all the residents of this great borough.
This was one of the key points I raised in my recent blog on LabourList which actually highlights how we have delivered in Ealing. We’ve had to make difficult decisions, on council tax charges for those on benefits, on personalisation, on reviewing centres and more but despite the cuts we’ve continued to focus on regeneration – investing in new housing, a new pool and new schools. We’ve also kept our libraries open, we’re committed to our Sure Start centres, we’ve protected our youth services and we’ve also frozen the council tax for our whole term.
Going back to full council, which was held on 16 April, we had two meetings as the first one was a short special council to award freedom of entry to the borough for 562 Transport Squadron. Council voted unanimously to back the motion which means the squadron – based in Southall – have the right to march in the borough. It is a way of recognising the sacrifice soldiers make so that we all may be free from fear and it is good to see Ealing council leading from the front in supporting the armed forces.
Full council that followed was again rather boisterous. The Tories started by attempting to hold a minute’s silence for Margaret Thatcher, but Lib Dem Jon Ball rose to challenge that after it had been agreed at the whips meeting that as there was no request from the palace or parliament for such an event.
After that we got onto the more detailed issues. The Tory opposition pushed a motion on parking charges in the borough, however the meeting noted that CPZs in Ealing are now self funding and what’s more the number of penalty notices in the borough has fallen, appeals are also going down and successful appeals have fallen. The main motion dealt with the government’s budget statement. Yvonne gave a good speech highlighting how despite the cuts we are working to protect vital services, I didn’t get to speak (as the guillotine fell) but had intended to highlight how 1p off the price of a pint does not make up for the bedroom tax, a lack of a cap on private sector rents, and the need to pay a living wage. Most importantly a top rate tax cut at a time when ordinary people are struggling is the not the right solution to get the economy growing.
The other key motion on credit unions was moved by John with a passionate speech about the need to support local people and keep them away from pay day lenders which are effectively nothing more legal loan sharks charging sky high interest rates to the people that are least able to pay them. Council backed the motion with an added focus on educating young people across the borough in financial management and looking to support and promote credit unions for those in need of a loan rather than pawn shops or pay day lenders. This is a welcome move and one that will make a material difference to people’s lives.
Finally there was also an update on the Save our hospitals campaign. Ealing council has referred the decision to close A&E services at Charing Cross, Ealing, Hammersmith and West Middlesex hospitals to health secretary Jeremy Hunt and we’re all mobilising for the march this Saturday (27 April). Come join us from 12:30 at Acton Park, we’ll march along the high street to Ealing from 13:00 for a rally with speakers at Ealing Common. It is key that we once again show how strongly the feeling is in Ealing about a future where there is not one A&E anywhere in the borough. Hopefully the weather will hold to the weekend and it’s key that we show the massive level of opposition to the plans.
Saying that it hasn’t all been formal business. We’ve also been out and about talking to people across the ward as John, Yvonne and I hold regular canvassing sessions to find out what is happening on the ground. We’ve been out across the whole of South Acton and we’ve got many more sessions planned, so if you see us say hi, we’re always happy to help. Remember we have our regular surgeries (shared with other Acton Labour councillors) at Ruskin Hall every Saturday from 11:00 to noon as well as at the Oak Tree Community Centre on the second Wednesday of the month (from 18:00-19:00).
Talking of ward issues, the initial work on the bridge at Acton Lane has now been completed. It was more of a cosmetic and safety exercise to make sure the bridge remains fit for purpose and hopefully later in the year we can see the second stage of work which should make it a much more welcome gateway to the ward. The works on the high street are also slowly progressing, as before the project is running from east to west so the current changes are being made next to the town hall/library before the more major changes come in. There has not been any major change in the current plans going forward, although as ever expect some possible (short term) delays in the traffic plans as the wheels often turn slowly at TfL.
Nearby the new school – the Ark Priory – is nearing completion and the work on the pool continues to progress. The town hall/pool project will include a trainer pool, a main eight lane pool on the ground floor, a new library, a gym and community services as well as council offices. The total project is on schedule and on budget. You can find out more from the Ealing council website or check the council newsletters.
As well as good news there is also some sad news as well-known local resident Eileen Simpson (last resident in Harleyford Manor) has passed away. Eileen was a long time resident of South Acton ward, born just round the corner from where I am writing this update. For those that wish to go her funeral will be on Thursday 2 May at 12.30 at St. Mary's Church, Acton High Street.
Finally, there’s a bit of change as the other key meeting earlier this week was the Labour group AGM. As Labour is the controlling group that meeting decides who takes the key roles/positions on the council and this year there have been a number of changes.
The one change that has not happened is that Yvonne remains the cabinet member for finance and performance. In these difficult and challenging times Yvonne has played a sterling role in protecting our vital services, extending the London living wage to some of the council’s lowest paid employees, helping freeze our council tax and keeping the council ticking over. Yvonne will continue that role for the coming year. Deputy leader Ranjit Dheer remains focused on community safety and Bassam Mahfouz remains responsible for the environment and transport brief – there was a good win on HS2 this week with a commitment to tunnel through Ealing - but there have been a couple of proposed changes in the cabinet. Acton Central councillor Patricia Walker swaps her schools portfolio with Jasbir Anand and shifts to the Adult and Social Services brief, while East Acton councillor Hitesh Tailor takes on employment and skills on top of the housing portfolio. Julian Bell remains leader of the council.
John and I have also taken on new roles. In his last year before stepping down to enjoy a well-deserved break after his years of service John was elected chair of the Labour group. The other main change was that I was elected the new chair of the council’s Overview and Scrutiny committee. This is a key committee that is tasked with reviewing and scrutinising the decisions made by the council. Over recent years scrutiny has looked in depth at council funding, alcohol misuse, value for money, dealing with the cuts and the role of the council in public health while the overview and scrutiny committee is tasked with acting as a check and balance on council decisions as well as helping deliver best practice. It is a busy and intensive role and it is a real privilege to be able to serve Ealing and its residents as chair of this important committee.
And that’s about it for now, the next key meeting is the mayor making on 14 May when these roles are formally put in place and we also elect the new mayor, this year it will be councillor Kamiljit Dhindsa of Southall Green ward, and then the new municipal year kicks off. It will be a busy year, but all of Acton’s (and Ealing’s) councillors will continue to work hard to deliver as best we can in these hard times. The end of the month also sees an unveiling of a plaque at the South Acton Recreation Ground to commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, if you want to know more just ask.
Evenso don’t forget the march to save our hospitals on Saturday. Ealing’s cabinet on Tuesday agreed to apply for a judicial review of the decision, but we still need to show the strength of anger against the proposed changes. So we’ll hopefully see you on Saturday, but as ever any questions just drop us a line.
John, Yvonne and Mik
John Gallagher – firstname.lastname@example.org – 020 8993 0017
7th May 2013